Thursday, August 25, 2016

Poem of the Day: "Li" by Mary Soon Lee, Frequent Contributor

Mary Soon Lee

Five guards plus Li himself. Too few.
The windows too large,
the hallway vulnerable.
For one night,
they could have stayed awake,
but they will be here twelve nights.

     one must first master the elements:
     to pierce, to pivot, to punch.
     Later, the dance:
     from the choice of opening pose
     through the sequence
     of following moves.

So. Two men outdoors.
One man in the hallway.
One man sleeping inside, blocking the door.
One man sleeping below each window.

     It is both art and skill, fighting:
     the body a shaped tool, alert,
     waiting for the first note
     of the dance.

Li positions his men,
pulls two blankets from the bed,
spreads them in an inner corner.
King Xau, watching him,
raises his eyebrows,
but says nothing.
They have traveled
this road before.

     Li spent twenty years
     forming himself into a weapon,
     his body lethal with knife,
     arrow, staff, rock, naked.
     But this new art,
     the art of protecting another,
     he has yet to master.
     Sometimes the music starts
     before the dancer is ready.

The king bows to each guard
and last to Li,
then lies down in the corner.
Li takes his place
on the floor by the door,
relaxes his muscles, breathes.
It is necessary that he sleep.
He cannot sleep.

     A long road.
     Son of a fisherman,
     but the town soldiers chose him--
     he alone of all the boys his age--
     to be their cook, apprentice,
     then, later, comrade, captain,
     promoted to the city,
     the capital, the palace.

He opens his eyes,
sees the king
staring back at him.
A year ago, this country
was at war with King Xau.
Many here still hate the king.
Breathe. He must sleep.

     A long road,
     and he has been back only once.
     The king told him to return
     when his mother was ill.
     Li refused.
     The king announced
     he was traveling to Qingzi himself.
     It is not easy to fight
     both your king and your heart.
     He saw his mother
     before she died.

Li watches the king
until the younger man
settles into sleep.
Li closes his eyes,
and, at length,

Poet's Notes: This is part of The Sign of the Dragon, my epic fantasy in verse. The epic as a whole is centered on King Xau. Wherever King Xau is, his guards are nearby, sometimes in the foreground of the story, sometimes watching over him from the background. In this particular poem, Captain Li worries about how to protect the king and reflects on how he came to be Xau's guard. I am very fond of several of Xau's guards, but Li is my favorite. More poems from "The Sign of the Dragon" may be read at

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